Trip Report: Sultan River Canyon Trail

A few months ago I was excited to read a trip report about the Sultan River Canyon Trail, a newly created trail near Spada Lake. Unfortunately, right after I read the report, the road to the trailhead washed out. Good news: the road is now repaired! I woke up early on Easter morning and did a quick run along this new trail, returning home in time for family festivities.

Since there isn’t much available info about this trail, and I think it has potential to become a reasonable winter standby, I’ll try to include plenty of details here:

Maps etc: There is an area map hosted on the Snohomish County PUD page. There was an interesting thread about this trail posted on NW Hikers five years ago, which included a topo map of the proposed trail. The area is also covered on Green Trails Index No. 142. Unfortunately the complete Sultan River Canyon trail is not clearly shown on any of these maps, but I didn’t have any problem finding my way. I’ve pasted an image of my route below, which included a quick trip out onto the Culmback Dam to check out views across Spada Lake.

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Sultan River Canyon Trail plus a short out-and-back to Culmback Dam. Approx 5 miles and 900 ft of elev gain.
Cascade views across Spada Lake from Culmback Dam.
Cascade views across Spada Lake from Culmback Dam.

Driving: All roads are in excellent condition. There were a few potholes but a sedan should have no problems in current conditions.

Peek-a-boo views as you approach the Gateway trailhead.

Trailhead: The Gateway trailhead is well-signed and there is plenty of parking. I was also pleasantly surprised to find HEATED pit toilets. Fancy. Note: At the parking area, there are two different signs that say the Sultan River Canyon trail is closed for construction. However, I called the Snohomish County PUD and they said the trail is open and the signs just haven’t been removed from last fall.

Trail: The first part of this route is actually a gravel road. The road is in good shape, nothing exciting, and overall trends slightly uphill as you hike away from the trailhead.

After ~1 mile on the road, you reach the actual Sultan River Canyon trail. The trail has been nicely constructed, with a combination of gravel and some rockier sections. Zero blowdowns. All of it is runnable. It’s a nice little change from most trails in that you descend first, as you head down to the Sultan River, and then climb back out as you return to your car. There are some switchbacks in steeper sections, but in general the trail is pretty moderate.

Sultan River Canyon trailhead.
Lots of private mining claim signs.
Rocky switchbacks

The trail ends at the banks of the Sultan River, in a place where the water is relatively calm. Some have expressed disappointment that you don’t get to see the big rapids often associated with the Sultan River. While I agree that rapids are cool, there’s something to be said for the quiet spot by the river at the end of this trail.

Sultan River at trail’s end.

The sign at the trailhead claims the road is 1 mile long, and that the Sultan River Canyon trail is 2 miles, making for 6 miles roundtrip. According to my GPS, the road is approx 1 mile but the trail is more like 1.25 miles (not 2) making for 4+ miles round trip. As mentioned previously, I ended up with just under 5 miles total because I also went down to the dam.

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